Improving Learning

We can’t use tech because it is “cool and new.” It must improve learning. If it doesn’t improve learning, why are we spending the money?

I met Eric Sheninger when he did the TEDxBurnsville event at the Minnesota History Center (it’s complicated) in 2014. He is an idol, I was thrilled to meet him. Watch his TEDx talk…

Saw this interview with him. It’s worth a listen.

More Audiobook Discussion!

Today, I saw a counter argument to the recently referenced blog post from Digital Book World that slammed audiobooks.

I am very happy to report that today’s post is much more affirming of audiobooks, and for real reasons — not just the previous author’s “feeling” that audiobooks were cheating.

First, let’s make a point. I want no more argument with this one:

I call it “reading.” Consuming a book, whether you do that in hardcover, braille, tablet or audio, constitutes reading in my book. To suggest otherwise is discourteous to those who don’t have the choice.

This next quote is what makes me happy about audiobooks:

But what’s particularly exciting when you’re reading a book with your ears, rather than your eyes, is the whole world of possibility that instantly emerges.

Possibility! For example, the additional nuance that a good narrator can bring. (And the horror a narrator who doesn’t fit your expectations can bring….) I appreciate that the author points out that oral storytelling is where we all began. And that in our changing lifestyles (commutes, more technology, etc.) it is not only easier to access audiobooks, but easier to consume them. Let’s see — should we read a paperback book while driving? I think not. But we can listen!

Hopefully this is the end of the great audiobook wars for awhile. I’m heading out to drive to work, and will be listening to an audiobook on the way.

 

5 Minute University

Saw this on Twitter…. too funny. Things haven’t changed much in the 30-odd years since Father Guido Sarducci blessed us with his wisdom.

Best quote:

It don’t matter how long you can remember anything as long as you can parrot it back for the test

The Straight “A” Leader

Doug Johnson is always a source of excellent blog posts. However, this one about straight-A students is particularly spectacular.

Academia rewards the straight-A student. They are those that get the scholarships, the Latin honors, the Ivy League colleges. I’m not taking away from their achievements – they’ve worked hard.

Johnson asks — are these students learning to question and to be original thinkers? Or are they really good at the establishment of education? (Of course, this is not to downplay anyone’s achievement.) The ultimate question: ”

what happens when our straight-A students become educational leaders – principals, directors, even superintendents?

Are the kids who succeeded at an established structure the ones who can be rethinking how students learn? Can they think outside the box and create an educational system that meets the needs of the 21st century when we’re not creating factory workers?

I can relate. I was one of those straight-A students. I’m not proud of it. I was really good at school – but not sure I was good at all at asking questions. I was good at learning and spitting back on a test. To this day, I bet I could take a standardized test about just about anything and do ok. Learning how to take a test is not a life skill. When I was teaching, the system at which I excelled was the one I wanted to recreate. It wasn’t a good fit for the kids I was teaching. It was a reflection of a different era and didn’t necessarily meet the kids where they were.

It took raising two kids who are not traditional straight-A students to be able to peek outside my box. Why is testing the most valued assessment? Why is the 5-paragraph essay the goal?

Johnson says it best:

Or perhaps we should start giving A’s for something other than good test performance. What a concept.

Theater Major: An Excellent Choice

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Theater Majors are Vital in the Digital Age.

I wholeheartedly agree…  but perhaps for additional reasons.

The author puts for this argument:

Solving a STEM equation is important, but discoveries in the sciences will occur only when people know how to be alone with their thoughts. Who is teaching that?

In acting classes, students grapple with the effects of technology on their brains, bodies, and social selves. Cellphones must be turned off and put away. The goal is to disconnect with technology and to connect with one another and themselves.

….From 2011 to 2014, the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation worked with theater artistsin Chicago through an online survey and a battery of aptitude tests to determine whether there are innate skills shared among theater workers. The aptitude called “foresight,” which is the talent to envision many possible outcomes or possibilities, was present in all theater workers (playwrights, directors, designers, actors). When actors try out various line readings or interpretations of a scene, when they improvise or create backstory, they are using foresight.

But foresight would be impossible without empathy. The actor’s ability to envision multiple outcomes or motivations in a play must be based on the character’s circumstances, not the actor’s. That requires a kind of stepping into another person’s shoes that social scientists say is dwindling among college-age students.

I love these arguments. Theater makes one more away of the human centered skills. Theater is a true cross disciplinary subject, as well. Theater teaches the soft skills that are hard to measure. In this world of STEM focus, these soft skills from theater are also as important.

Theater majors work in English (script analysis), history (theater history), sociology/diversity (theater from different communities), communications (writing and oral skills), business (marketing, sales), project management (schedules, building), art (design). I’d hire a theater major any day!

Influencing Young Minds

I read other blogs because they make me think. Also because most bloggers are really good writers and they can often put into words what I am thinking but haven’t expressed – or don’t feel I can express because I’m not a teacher. Blogging allows a conversation when it’s not possible to have a real life conversation.

One of my favorite bloggers is a former high school teacher. He has left the world of K12 for the hallowed halls of higher education. I hope his philosophy can benefit many new teachers going into the world. Instead of directly impacting students, he can benefit more students by teaching new teachers to question the current state of education.

Snippets in today’s post were perfect reminders of why he is an excellent teacher – and why the current public school system drove him away.

Standardized tests are silly and do not account for real teaching. I am referring to the complex work of mentoring young people as they grow up in an infinitely complex, unsafe universe. Story is a better way to represent that work than test scores.

Seriously, how wonderfully insightful is this? Truly, does it matter if a student can remember the street some character in a book lived on, what year a battle occurred, or what equation you need to find the area of a parallelogram? Yes – a professor of literature, history or math might need these pieces of information at their fingertips, but not the majority of us. Do we need to be exposed to many types of information, ways of thinking and problem solving? Yes. Do we need to memorize all this stuff. No way.

A more important piece of a teacher’s job seems to be just what Sam says: mentoring people to grow into healthy adults. He was a creative teacher that did not rely on tests, extraordinary amounts of outside work or reciting facts. He asked students to think, apply knowledge to other situations, consolidate information and use their own experience. But he got a ton of flack for it. Personally, I am grateful my kid had a chance to be in his class. I know she got more out of that class — he made her think, he challenged her — than she did from those “advanced” classes that were crammed full of content.

I particularly like this quote:

First, I think teachers should not pretend to be transmitters of ultimate truths. Our truths might not work for somebody else.

Agreed. This respects diversity of thought, of opinion, of belief. Let’s encourage students to develop a belief system of their own instead of forcing them to swallow someone else’s. This does not mean students don’t work with content – it means truly there is too much content in the world to know it all. Learn to work well with smaller amounts so you are better equipped to work with it all.

How can teachers empathize with students and help them adapt to their circumstances with the understanding that realities are diverse, dissimilar, and require nuance to navigate? Throw out the tests. Most tests assume an arbitrary truth and then impose that truth at the expense of questioning.

This statement I find sums up the problem with standardized testing in a nutshell. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity in these tests. There is only room for spitting back material. What do we value more?

Way back a hundred years ago when I was teaching, I told my students (7/8th graders) flat out that I didn’t want them memorizing dates. I never used tests. All assessment was done using projects, often of their own choosing. Projects had to show an understanding of the issues and how it applied. It wasn’t a spitting back of dates. This was in the years before the rise of standardized tests and in an “open” school that left teachers a ton of flexibility. It was awesome….

I hope Sam’s current work in higher education teaching teachers allows him to plant this seed of thought in all these young people going into education. Maybe that’s how we start moving in this direction.

Theater as 21st Century Skills

Love this post, “Four Reasons Theater Should be a Core Subject in Schools” by Madison McAllister about why theater should be a required subject in school. I’d go a little deeper than the author as to my reasons why.

Yes, it’s good a good outlet for emotions. Yes, it’s builds great people skills.

Theater also teaches the basics of 21st Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking.

21st Century Skills

At its most basic level, theater hits all these skills.  Whether onstage or offstage, theater builds useful life skills.

Onstage: actors have to create a character. They think critically about the character they are playing and find a away to communicate the character and the story to the audience. In order to do this, they must collaborate with others – whether this is another actor, a director, lighting person, stage manager, whatever.

Offstage: directors, set designers, stagehands all have to use these four skill sets as well.

Critical Thinking

The first step of any production is to read the script and think about the characters. What is their intent? What is their backstory? Why do they say the lines? How do they say the lines? How are they feeling? Actors often create backstories for their characters that require them to dig much deeper than the script presented.

What else do you need to know about the setting? How do you analyze the location? What time period is it set in and how does that impact the characters? The sets? Costumes?

Creativity

Theater is inherently creative -and perhaps that’s why people are uncomfortable with it in schools. Each actor creates a different interpretation of a character, and how do you grade that? (Maybe you DON’T!!!) How do you assess it if it isn’t  a number?

Actors, designers, directors all create the production from their imagination. How do different costume choices impact the show? How do you create emotion? How do you design a set to give the appropriate feeling?

Collaboration

Theater is never done by yourself. Even a one-person show requires more people. Actors collaborate with other actors, with directors, designers, stage managers and backstage staff. Talk about a deadline – the show opens! You have an audience. You have to work with the team in order to get the show to open.

Once the show opens, there is another collaboration – this time with the audience. The presence of an audience changes a show and it’s crucial to collaborate with that audience -not to alienate.

Communication

It’s all about communication! From the basics of communicating a story to an audience to delving deep into a character, theater is communication at its best.

From start to finish, many forms of communication are essential. Written: script, programs, marketing. Visual: set, costume design. Oral: delivering lines, giving/receiving direction. It’s all there!

But I don’t DO Theater!

I know, not every kid wants to be on stage. But guess what – not every kid wants to be a biologist, a mathematician, a historian. Yet, all those subjects are required. Why should theater not be there? You can deal with any of these content areas through theater. We all have to be in classes that are out of our comfort zone.